Best Practices

The Secret Sauce Is Always Spoiled

For the first time in seven years, I’m walking away from the fall conference season with a feeling of complete and utter hope for our industry.

Never before have I seen so many dealers who were truly engaged with the speakers and each other. It’s as if we’ve hit a turning point where skepticism and confusion have been replaced by knowledge and understanding. I learned more from exchanging ideas with dealers than with other vendors.

There was one negative component that still reared its ugly head as it seems to do every conference season. The fallacy of “secret sauce” getting peddled by vendors is still ever-present. This needs to change and dealers have the power to make it happen.

Today, there’s really no such thing as secret sauce. Nobody has a magic incantation they can chant over their software that gives their dealers a competitive advantage. In this day and age, we must demand transparency in the what and the how. It’s no longer acceptable to take someone’s word on it as they hide behind the facade of “proprietary” this or “top secret” that.

I’m not suggesting that vendors need to open up their software code for others to duplicate. I simply want vendors to show their dealers what they’re doing to achieve the desired results and how their actions are making it happen.

When a company says that they use proprietary technology to drive traffic, increase leads, or generate sales, it scares me. What could they possibly be doing that’s so secret that if others knew about it their whole model would crumble?

Websites are websites. Some are better than others, but nobody has a hidden backdoor to drive more traffic to it from search engines. Nobody is generating more leads through a hypnotic set of flashes that forces people to leave their name and phone number. Nobody is using the magic code that projects inventory directly into people’s brains.

There are only three reasons that any product or service would be so secretive that dealers need to simply accept that they’ll work:

  1. It’s using techniques that are against someone’s rules (Google, Facebook, OEM, FTC, etc)
  2. It is completely commonplace and other vendors or even dealers themselves could duplicate what they’re doing for at a much lower cost
  3. It’s snake oil

Thankfully, the majority of vendors who have pitched their product to me over the last year, over 70 of them for whom I’ve taken notes, have streamlined and opened up their presentations to be able to answer the hard questions about what they do. The most important question that I ask (and the one that dealers should always ask their vendors) is…What is it about your product/service that would keep another vendor or a dealer from doing exactly what you’re doing?”

Depending on the product or service, there are plenty of right answers to this question, including:

  • “We’ve accumulated the data through testing that guides the decisions we’ve made about the direction of the product.”
  • “The software alone took over 6-months to build and we’re constantly improving it.”
  • “Our experts have been performing these tasks constantly for a long time and their experience is worth the cost.”
  • “We support our dealers in ways that would be challenging for you to do on your own based upon your time constraints.”
  • “Nothing.”

That last one is the one you’ll rarely hear, but it’s actually the most truthful in most situations.

Let’s look at pay-per-click search advertising, for example. Anyone can do the online training and become an expert at Google Adwords relatively quickly and at a very low cost. They could manually manage their campaigns through the native Google Adwords software and achieve equal or better results than the PPC providers. However, it takes time and effort. In the vast majority of the circumstances at dealerships, the $1000 or so dollars spent on management and automation is worth the investment because of the time saved and consistency of automation, particularly with dynamic ads.

When something is considered so proprietary that the vendor cannot go into the details of what they do that’s working and why it’s so effective, I get worried. Expertise, quality of work, proper customer service, saving time or money – these are valid reasons to work with a vendor.

“Secret sauce” is not.